WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING???

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Romans chapter 8, verses 6-7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow United Methodist clergy on Facebook. It was focused on a post this individual had made. It was surprisingly civil (up to this point)–still, I couldn’t help but think: What are they teaching now in United Methodist Seminaries? Here’s the screenshot of that comment:

This person compared understanding Scriptures to a 3-legged stool. The top is the Scriptures and the 3 legs are tradition, reason, and experience. Thus, without tradition, or reason, or experience, one cannot adequately understand Scripture. The primary (and often times “sole determining factor”) way to understand Scripture is through tradition, reason, and experience. Now, before you call me that dreaded “fundamentalist”, hear me out. We do not study the Scriptures in a vacuum. There are traditions. We all have experiences. And God created us to be able to reason, or think if you prefer.

But it seems that many of our clergy are using reason as the final determining factor. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to us, or if the culture tells us something contrary, then we are free to change or ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what many seminaries are teaching. Not all of them, mind you; but enough of them are and the result has been the dilution and devolution of the power of Scripture to guide us and form in us the life of Holiness demanded by God for His Image Bearers. Go back to the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool.

The writer is correct in stating that for a three-legged stool to be secure enough to sit on, it needs all three legs. And, by implication, those 3 legs need to be the same length. Otherwise it is unstable. But do not overlook the other implication–that Scripture (the seat of that three-legged stool) cannot safely support us until all three of those legs are the same length. In other words, Scripture is to be formed by OUR traditions, experiences, and reasoning.

Can I be frank with you? I know, my name is Randy. But I need to be FRANK with you this morning. Using the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool, when those who are supposed to be our Spiritual Leaders are taught that human reasoning overrides the Scriptures and that we need to change our beliefs about anything in the Bible, then the result is the chaos and soon to follow destruction of the United Methodist, and any other church that follows the same primrose path. And to my fundamentalist friends, if you allow your traditions to determine your beliefs about the Bible, then your three-legged stool is just as unsteady.

Hear me out! Yes, reason, tradition, and experience are helpful tools when it comes to understanding Scripture! But they do not determine what is THE TRUTH! The Truth is set by the Bible for all matters of faith, life, and conduct. But none of them gives us the permission to change The Standard clearly set in The Bible! From my perspective, many seminary professors took a bite of that apple Satan offered Eve and Adam, and unlike Eve and Adam who recognized the shame and mistake, they “reason” that the apple is good, and that Satan was right. Is there any doubts now as to why the United Methodist Tribe is imploding? It looks like that three-legged stool analogy doesn’t work after all.

SELECTIVE SEEING!

 Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

John chapter 14, verse 8; from The Message

We husbands are often accused of “selective hearing” by our wives. Know what? They are right and we are guilty! Admitting one has a problem is the first step in recovery. But I’m not orating today about husbands and selective hearing. Nay! I want us to take a serious look at what I call “selective seeing”.

Look at this morning’s passage. Remember the context! Jesus has been preparing them for his upcoming and intentional death. Jesus told them he was about to go back to see Dad and that they would know the way to where He was going to be! Thomas’ opening salvo was that they didn’t know the way. Jesus tries to explain this simple principle when Philip adds his two-cents worth: “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.” Both men were suffering from what is known as Confirmation Bias!

According to Wikipedia, Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” Here’s the common sense definition: “It’s seeing what we want to see and ignoring what we don’t want to see!” When these 12 guys started following Jesus as a student, each had their view of what The Messiah should look like. After 3 years one would think that they’ve began learning about the true Messiah, not the one of their imaginations. Alas, it seems like Philip didn’t read all the memos that Jesus had been sending. Philip was looking for what Philip was looking for; but not for what Jesus was showing him.

And before we get too harsh on Philip, what about us? Do we tend to see situations, people, and even the Bible with Confirmation Bias? Any book, any teaching, can and IS subject to Confirmation Bias! Even The Bible. Just recently I was reading a blog where the author was talking about Jesus’ parable about the praying of a Pharisee and the praying of a Tax Collector (Luke chapter 18). This particular writer is of the more progressive theology group. He fixated on verse 14 that tells of both of them going home. He chose a single Greek word as his fixation (Confirmation Bias)–par which can be translated as with. He said that this meant that both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector left together as friends. That each one changed their opinion about the other and accepted each other.

When we look into the Bible WITH Confirmation Bias we will find exactly what we are looking for, but not what God is saying. One doesn’t have to be progressive or orthodox, liberal or conservative, to be afflicted with Confirmation Bias. Confirmation Bias, or Selective Seeing, can and does happen to everyone. It can be intentional. AND it can be unintentional. Don’t read the Bible to find things that support your views! Nay, my friends! Open your heart. Open your mind. Allow God to be God and see what HE is showing you. Don’t see what you want to see. See what God is really saying. If our Tribe, the United Methodist, had been doing this all along instead of Selective Seeing, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.

HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR FILTERS LATELY?

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

2 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 1; from the New Living Translation

Paul says that we need to cleanse ourselves from everything that can–well–mess up our life and relationship with God. That prompted me to think about cars/trucks and all its filters. There’s the air filter, oil filter, transmission filter, fuel filter; there’s even an inside cabin filter, and maybe some I’ve overlooked. These filters are all about preventing the bad stuff from getting inside. If the bad stuff gets inside? Well, let’s just say that the outcome isn’t good at all.

Once we’ve been cleansed from sin by God’s Grace, how do we keep out the bad stuff in order to have God’s life of holiness? The late Albert Outler once described a way to help us filter out this bad stuff from the teachings of John Wesley. He called it Wesley’s Quadrilateral–Scripture, reason, tradtion, and experience. However, later in life Outler regretted coining that term. Nonetheless, it’s a great tool to assist us in pursuing this life of holiness.

But sometimes traditions are wrong. Experiences change from person to person. And human reasoning fluctuates more than the stock markets. But one of these tools never changes–and that’s The Bible. Use those other 3 tools because they are beneficial to help us understand the life of Holiness. But the aforementioned are subject to change and may allow us breathe in some of that bad stuff. But The Bible has withstood the test of time. Allow God’s word to be that final filter so that after God has cleansed us from our sins, we don’t get “dirty” again. God’s commands are not given to us to make us miserable and unhappy. They are the filters that PREVENT us from being miserable and unhappy. And remember–when I say The Bible, I’m not talking about what others say about it–it’s about what The Bible says to us!

WHEN YOU HAVE THE KEY!

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.

1 John chapter 4, verse 1; from the New Living Translation

Have you ever come to a door, turned the knob, but couldn’t get in because it was locked? Try with all your might, it just won’t turn. And you can’t get in unless you pick the lock, bust down the door like you’re in an episode of “Cops”, or better yet, you have the key. Not just any key, but the right key. Every lock (unless it’s one of those “computer chip” locks) has a key with a specific series of cuts. A key that opens one door will not open another door, that is, unless they are “keyed” together. What does all this talk about keys and doors have to do with the Kingdom Life? Glad you asked this question!

There are a variety of locked doors we face in life. One of them is having a relationship with God. That door is clearly locked. And to get the door unlocked, we need faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; the sacrifice that calls for our admission of guilt, trust in God’s grace, and the desire to change our life by living it in Christ and Christ in us. That’s the simple part. But what about once we get on the other side of that door?

On the other side of that door is the life of walking with Him in the way that honors Him! We call this The Life Of Holiness! Where do we find exactly what this kind of life looks like? The life that honors God is found within the pages of The Bible. But, if we are honest, we find another locked door and we urgently need the key. Now, don’t misunderstand me on this point (though someone most definitely will). I’m not suggesting or even hinting that The Bible is some kind of mysticism. Though The Bible is clear about many things, there are some things that we have to, call it “wrestle with”.

How do we come to understand The Truth of and IN The Bible in ways that enable and empower us to live in the way that honors God? Now, there are some out there who sincerely believe that we have both the capacity and the ability to figure out on our own how to do this. In other words, human knowledge, logic, and wisdom are all we need to understand The Bible so that we can live in the way that honors Him!

The Key to understanding The Bible, and thus to live the life that honors God is The Holy Spirit. Now, The Spirit can and does use the insights of others. But the ultimate Guide to understanding the entire Bible is The Holy Spirit. Jesus promises this in John chapter 16, verse 13: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (New Living Translation) It is God’s Holy Spirit, and never the human spirit, that will open the treasure of The Truth found in the Bible. Allow me to close out with a personal example.

Decades ago I avoided reading and especially preaching, anything from the Book of Ecclesiastes. But now, it’s one of my very favorite books. What happened? Well The Holy Spirit introduced me to one of my mentors, Chuck Swindoll. It was his book Living On The Ragged Edge. One phrase that Chuck brought to light that is repeated throughout the book of Ecclesiastes is under the sun! Chuck brought out that Solomon is describing life without God. And the Holy Spirit leaned in, whispered in my ear, “Did you see that?” That key and the faithful presence of The Holy Spirit opened the door for me in understand Ecclesiastes. And to this day, The Holy Spirit continues to help me see, not only Ecclesiates, but the entire Bible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs chapter 3 verses 5-7, from the New Living Translation

WHERE DO YOU BELONG?

The longing to belong is one of the most basic human emotions! I know there are those we call hermits who cut themselve off from all human contact. They achieve this by building a stone wall around that desire to belong to keep it under control. But this does not negate that most basic desire: the longing to belong! So, let me ask you this morning, “Where do YOU belong?” The answer lies in our true identity. And this is where all the chaos and problems begin.

Some think their identity is found in who they want to have sex with. No, this Preacherman isn’t afraid to talk about sex. Others think their identity is found in those who think just like them. Still others think their identity is found with those who have the same fashion taste as they do. Still others think their identity is found with those who societal norms have declared they are the “in” group. Still others think their identity is found with those who have the same political views. Still others think their identity is found with those who like to do the things they like to do. Still others think. . .get my point?

But what if I told you that the longing to belong isn’t in any of these types of things? It’s the truth, whether you believe me or not. Remember that the longing to belong is the one of, if not the most basic human need. Where does it come from? Glad you asked! It comes from The One who created us–God! God the Father! God the Son! God the Holy Spirit! Why do I say this? Because of all that God created only one thing bears His Image–and that’s us Human Beings! Not the trees, not the skies, not the stars, not the fish or any other critter. It’s Us Human Beings!

And why is this truth so important? (And it is very IMPORTANT!) God created us for intimate friendship and fellowship with Him and all the other Image Bearers! But with the introduction of sin (thanks, Adam and Eve!), that friendship and fellowship was broken. But don’t despair! God did something about that sin. He didn’t change His mind about sin! Au contraire, my friend. In fact, He showed us how damaging and destructive Sin is when His Son, Jesus, died on that Roman Cross. And through our faith in His act of grace filled love, the disease of sin is taken out of us!

And we BELONG to God, Our Creator, Father, Savior, and Sustainer! Now some want to say that it’s love–love is what makes us holy! Whoa! Wait a second buckeroo! It isn’t love that makes us holy. It’s Holiness that makes us Love! And holiness is clearly defined by the Bible, not the so-called experts on the Bible. Holiness is more that what we do and don’t do. Holiness is the life long transformation back into our original image. And don’t think for a nano-second that means you have to give up your individuality. God doesn’t use a cookie cutter–that’s what Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters do.

No, God made you uniquely YOU! Within this human form there’s no way any one of us can fully express God’s Glorious Image! So God gives His Image Bearers (at conception, I might add!) each a uniquely personal way to reveal His Glory. But if we let other things tell us where we belong–well–we just end up angy, bitter, and hateful. More than this, we end up empty. So don’t worry if others tell you that you don’t belong! After all, they didn’t create you. You belong to God who is working to bring HIS glory out in you!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

And I leave you with this song:

RIPPING APART AT THE SEEMS!

The fabric of our culture is being ripped apart at the seems. And please don’t call the Grammar Police that I have used the wrong word. It’s the correct word. I wrote what I meant and I meant what I wrote. SEEMS! Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. the fabric of our society is being ripped to shreads at the seems. I came upon this thought through remembering a certain passage from The Bible. In fact, it’s been roaming around in my gray matter for several days. Here is is:

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Proverbs chapter 14 verse 12 from the New Living Translation

Some might think it’s amazing that a book as old as Proverbs can be so relevant to these times. But it’s not really amazing to me. These books of The Bible continue to be both timeless and timely. But let’s get back to those seems. Consider this:

  • It seems right to the LBGTQI culture that if society just accepted them, they would be happy.
  • It seems right to the gay community that if they could just get married like any heterosexual couple they would be happy.
  • It seems right to the project manager since their assistant is so capable to let them do all the work and they take all the credit.
  • It seems right that since that other person is so good looking, that a night in the sack is OK.
  • It seems right that if they child shows up for the games they should get a participation trophy.
  • It seems right that since they have a college degree they should start at the top.
  • It seems right that since that drug helps take away their stress they should reach for it.
  • It seems right that since a child would impede their lifestyle and goals, an abortion is the right choice.
  • It seems right that the government should be responsible for us from craddle to grave.
  • It seems right that if someone doesn’t agree with you that they must then hate you.
  • It seems right ad nauseam…

Now before you Tenured Pew Sitters finish saying, “Amen! You tell them Preacherman!” Let’s look at our church culture.

  • It seems right that Jesus should just come back and take us good ones on to our reward, since this world will never change.
  • It seems right that if the church could just go back to the good old days, we could stop the hemorrhaging members and doors closing.
  • It seems right that if their church started catering to them, then all the problems would go away in their church.
  • It seems right the church’s sole job is to point out the sins of others.
  • It seems right that everyone in their church should dress a certain way, think a certain way, and believe a certain way.
  • It seems right that the church should only help those who deserve it.
  • It seems right that they should only sing the songs they like.
  • It seems right ad nauseam…

It seems that many, too many people, are living by the seems–and life is ripping apart at the seems. And then Proverbs Chapter 14 Verse 12 proves itself to be absolutely true. What seems to be true is proven false by life itself. And things begin to rip apart, at the seems. This is life without God–life without Jesus as BOTH Savior AND Lord. Contrary to the opinion of alleged experts, we are simply not qualified, and certainly not capable, of determining what is right and what is wrong.

But there is an alternative and it’s the only one who will keep our lives from falling apart at the seems. It’s really simple and easy–that is–if we can get over ourselves. We find it in another book of The Bible. It’s in Matthew chapter 11, verses 28 and 29:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

from the New Living Translation

The word yoke doesn’t refer to the kind worn by oxen and mules. It’s about the Teaching Of The Rabbi. Back then what Rabbis taught was called The Yoke. And if you think the teaching of Jesus is too hard and difficult (because He did say: Be holy as I Am holy), read these words again. But this time from a different Translation:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

from The Message

Be and become whom God made you to be and become, and NOT what seems right to you. You and our society will be and become something so much better. Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

LOVE LOWERS THE BAR! REALLY?

Love lowers the bar! That’s right, forget about Biblical Holiness, just love others as they are and forget everything else! What?????? Well, at least that’s what Progressives want everyone to believe. Over the years, our cousins–The Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist hierarchy have been exploring what they call “Communion”. In simplest terms, it means we recognize each others contributions to the Body of Christ, and will work together to further The Kingdom. But recently the Episcopals decided to put it on hold because of our current quagmire about human sexuality. The Episcopals have decided to wait until 2024 to see what our governing body decides about this issue, even though the issue was settled in 2019; a decision that hasn’t been followed hardly at all in the United Methdoist Church. (Read the article here)

What the progressives, or as I am prone to call them, Pro-Agressives, wants is for us to have a new God-Approved Definition of human sexuality. In other words, let each person decide–their gender, if they even have one, and with whom they want to have a sexual relationship. But wait! There’s more! One cannot love them unless they approve of their self-designed sexual designation! If you don’t approve–meaning it’s OK for them to be pastors and missionaries and such–then you hate them.

Their (twisted) logic is that Jesus came to show us what love looks like; and He loved everyone unconditionally–and this means He approves of their lifestyle, including sexual identity. Therefore, if we want to follow Jesus, then to love them we must place our stamp of approval on their lifestyle as well. So, when Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”, He meant, “Now you are free to commit adultery, if that’s how you feel about yourself.” And when Jesus said, “Be holy as The Father is holy”, what Jesus meant was, “In about 2,000 years you will be smart enough to define what it means to be holy! Forget what the Bible actually says. You get to decide! That is, if you will approve of what others believe!” (If you would like to read some of the comments about this article, go to the United Methodist News Facebook Page.)

Crazy, crazy, and more craziness! Right? And since we as human beings love to point the finger of blame at someone, where do we place the blame for this craziness? Personally, I want to blame the fundamentalists, for they are the 21st Century Pharisees. And we all know how Jesus felt about Pharisees! I would like to blame the Churchians and Tenured Pew sitters who want people to be conformed to their opinions rather than be Transformed by the mind of Christ. I would like to blame the Pro-Agressives for demanding their view be the only view. But then, I would miss the mark of who is really to blame.

And who is to blame? The answer is clear: Satan! He rejects The Truth and promotes The Lies. If anyone knows about the trickiness of Satan, it’s Peter. Remember, he denied Jesus 3 times. But later on, Peter wrote in 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 8: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” He has devoured this culture by those who have bought into his lie that we are smart enough to define Holiness for us today. Well, that’s just a bald-faced lie! Wake up, folks! We can love everyone without condemning them. And we can love them without putting the church’s stamp of approval on their life choices. To some it may sound crazy to say this–but it is what it is!

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 7

This will be the last in the series of blogs. And in my humble opinion, here is the greatest heresy of all that some believe is in The Bible, but it’s NOT!

All God Expects Of Us Is To Love Like Jesus!

This is the creed and mantra from those who self-identify as progressives. I have a difficult time calling it a theology, because Truth has been completely ignored–even erased. Those who have been deceived by this lie freely quote all the passages that talk about love–and ignore the rest. They love to even quote a “bit” of Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you.”

They insist–scratch that! The DEMAND we see this their way–or else we are mean, ugly, dumb, hateful, homophobic, despiteful, heinous, odious, vicious, and vile creatures. To focus on LOVE and ignore TRUTH is a train wreck about to happen. Yes, sometimes Truth hurts–but living Lie? This hurts beyond our wildest imaginations.

They want us to think the the death of Jesus opens the way for us to think for ourselves about what is right and what is wrong. If we love like Jesus, then what once was immoral–instantly becomes moral. I just came across this in my research for today blog. It’s another blog called Jesus Without The Baggage by Peter Enns. In one blog he writes: “The essence of what we call ‘sin’ is not breaking God’s rules (that is Law–legalism); it is the way we treat each other causing pain, alienation, and all the other words mentioned at the beginning of this article.” For Mr. Enns, there is no such thing as “Original Sin”.

However, here is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19 (NLT)–“17 Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

And let’s not forget good old Peter. He wrote affirming the standard of God’s holiness is to be our standard in 1 Peter 1:15 (NLT)–But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. If one cannot trust The Bible to identify sin, then they cannot trust The Bible at all! Love doesn’t mean we “gotta” obey God–it means we “get to” obey God. Yes, sin does still exist–and we are not qualified nor capable of defining sin.

A Fraction Of God

Last night God provided me today’s topic. It comes from a book I am reading, Praying The Promises: Anchor Your Life To Unshakable Hope, by Max and Andrea Lucado. Here’s what made me think, and also made me sad, very sad.

Many believers settle for a two-thirds God. They rely on the Father and the Son but overlook the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes more than a hundred references to the Holy Spirit. Jesus said more about the Holy Spirit than He did about the church or marriage. In fact, on the eve of His death, as He prepared His followers to face the future without Him, He made this great and precious promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)

Praying The Promises: Anchor Your Life To Unshakable Hope, by Max and Andrea Lucado

Two-thirds of God? How is that even possible? I mean, the bare minimum standard of God (the whole God) is daunting: “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2). What? My ESPN just kicked in again, and on a Monday. Someone just thought, “Oh, that’s Old Testament stuff. I’m a New Testament person.” OK, if that’s the way you feel, try this on for size, and it’s from Jesus, Himself: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NLT)

See? It’s daunting, difficult, and down right IMPOSSIBLE! Why would God even expect us to be “perfect” if it can’t be done? That’s where that other one-third comes in–The Holy Spirit! But if you don’t know or understand The Holy Spirit, how do you get to “perfect”? Living with only a two-thirds god (notice, I used the lower case “g”!), how does one even get close to perfect? Well, here are some (poor, very poor) substitutes I’ve seen people use in a vain attempt to fill up that missing one-third:

  • Sunday attendance at church
  • Sitting in the same pew (that’s to make sure that God sees you)
  • Giving some money to the church
  • Able to recite The Lord’s Prayer without looking at the bulletin or screen
  • Keep the same traditions–and oppose any changes
  • Wear your finest clothes to church and frown on those who don’t
  • Pick up from your church a “devotional booklet” and read it, sometimes
  • Say a blessing before each meal
  • (Here’s a good one:) Point out where others aren’t “holy” and “perfect”
  • Align with a political party you think best follows what God wants
  • Make sure no other person sees or hears you “sin”–after all, appearances are everything, right?
  • And last, but not least (and this one is absolutely hilarious!) Trust your own intellect and abilities

I could go on with this list, but suffice it to say, my point is made–the one that Max and Andrea made in the book–We need the Holy Spirit–not only do we need the Holy Spirit–we need to understand His work and purpose in our life. What is that “work and purpose” in our life? Glad you asked! See the aforementioned passages–oh, let me reiterate them again:

“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

New Living Translation

You and I need God, the WHOLE God and nothing but God–who comes to us through The Holy Spirit!

This One Or This One?

As I mentioned, a couple of weeks ago I went to my optometrist because–well because it was time. Though I have going to an optometrist since I was 12 years old, it doesn’t mean I look forward to it–or that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing one. I haven’t! I mean, it’s like taking a test, right? “Which one, this one or this one? Number 1 or Number 2? Or are they about the same?” Sometimes the difference is noticeable to me–and sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I went to a different optometrist because we had moved since my last eye exam. On one such comparison (Number 2 or Number 1? Or are they about the same?), I was obviously taking too long to give an answer (have I mentioned I hate tests?), because Dr. Clark said, “Now both of them are going to be a bit blurry, just tell me which one is less blurry, or if there is no difference between them.” My mind was telling me that I had better make the right choice or you will be spending a lot of money for nothing.

Comparisons can be difficult to make. Tell me, do you compare yourself with…other people? It can be very uplifting if it is obvious that you are better than the other person. But there is a flip side–it can be very discouraging when you see someone is doing something better than you. Human nature being human nature–we try to avoid the latter.

But there is one comparison that is obvious and very clear that a distinct difference exists. It is from 1 Peter chapter one verses 15 and 16–“But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.  For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy. Forget that! God is perfect–and me? I’m a far cry from perfect–and so are you. How is this going to help us? If God expects perfection–and He does–then I might as well give up!

And this puts me in the “perfect” place–the perfect place to stop trying to be holy–and allow my Creator, my Heavenly Father, my Savior, my Comforter to do what He does best. Being holy isn’t the result of our efforts, but it is the product of God’s work of grace in our hearts. What I need to do is let Him work by following Jesus. And then moment by moment, bit by bit, it becomes obvious that there is a difference–a difference between the current me and the me I’m becoming!

The Rich Lighter Life!

I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.

As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.

Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains  terpene, a volatile hydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.

This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:

The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.

What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.

Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”

If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:

RECALCULATING: HAVE YOU ARRIVED?

We began this series by stating the obvious:  That our culture is in deep turmoil, unconstrained chaos, and relentless fear.  It is fueling irritation, aggravation, and frustration that is creating the toxic environment of Despair.  And without a radical change of direction, a Divine Recalculating Moment, it will only become worse.

When we use that navigational tool called GPS and follow its directions, we see those long awaited words:  You Have Arrived At Your Destination.  Global Positioning System works when the receiver connects with 3, preferably 4 satellites.  Those satellites then triangulate that signal and then sends it back to the receiver.  GPS needs the reference points from those satellites.  Without those 3-4 satellites, it just doesn’t work.  

But sometimes, GPS is wrong.  In my experiences, there are times when my GPS says You Have Arrived At Your Destination, I’m looking at an open field.  Or, I don’t see what I’m looking for.  Sometimes, I see it but it’s across the road.  Those GPS systems are not always correct and can make us feel even more lost than before we started the trip.

And when our Spiritual Navigation system is off, it’s even more so.  Every person, without exception, has a certain set of Values, Ideas And Beliefs.  Each person is on a journey to a destination defined by those values, ideas and beliefs.  The values, ideas and beliefs are the reference points that ultimately determines their destination, tells us when and where to turn, and defines when we have arrived.

Without the right Reference Point, we will always end up at the wrong place…and this is where our culture is at.  Life on earth has an intended Destination.  Yes, ultimately Heaven, but there’s a Destination for us here on earth.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: 

Our Destination Is To Become Peculiar.  

There is only one people in the Church–God’s own people.  The church does not have a ministry; it is ministry; it does not have a mission; it is mission.

Without a Recalculating Moment Of Heart And Purpose, we will journey farther and farther away from the heart of God—and the only life our hearts long for.  This is the last in the series and there’s a word I’ve been using throughout.  That word is Peculiar, and I could not end this series without taking a look at what it means to be peculiar.

The only way we can arrive at our spiritual destination is to have the correct reference points.  Now, think back to those satellites.  Their position is used to determine your position.  But, if their position is off, their orbit is not in the right place, then the information it delivers you will be wrong.

In our Spiritual journey, to live the life we are created for, it’s absolutely essential that those Reference Points are in the right place.  I’m not talking today about how to be peculiar.  This is not another how to sermon.  The Christian walk is more than just knowing how to more than just a mechanical response to God’s call. 

When our response to God is mechanical we lose our excitement and start looking for another fix-it-upresponse.  So instead of talking out how to be peculiar I want to talk about being peculiar.  I think you will see that the difference is more than subtle.  Let’s Read 1 Peter 2:1-10…

1 “So get rid of all evil behavior.  Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. 2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple.  He was rejected by people, but He was chosen by God for great honor.

5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.  What’s more, you are his holy priests.  Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. 6 As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.”

7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given Him.  But for those who reject Him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”

And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”  They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

These Christians knew what Peter was talking about.  Once they had been No People, just ethnic and cultural groups that could be classified as heathen.  Among them were also small pockets of Jews. They understood Peter.  Once they had been no people.  They had been proud and self-sufficient—and lost— but now they had become the recipients of God’s mercy. 

This is not some new insight on Peter’s part.  It comes right out of Hosea 2:23; Peter takes this and runs with it—he begins to apply title upon title on this “No People” who had become redeemed by the grace of God.  

  • No People are now Chosen People.
  • No People are now Royal Priests.
  • No People are now A Holy Nation.
  • No People are now God’s Very Own Possession.

This is what it looks like to be “peculiar”.  I know that’s a word we don’t like to use to describe ourselves.  I mean, who really wants to be “peculiar”?  Well…we should want to be “peculiar”.  Think about what this word means:  “characteristic of only one person, group, or thing; different from the usual or normal”.  If the confusion, chaos and hatred in our culture is ever going to change—Then We’ve Got To Unashamedly Embrace Being Different From The Usual And The Norm.   

To be different from the usual and norm that floods Facebook and the news, then we need that Recalculating Moment that will enable us to reach our destination here, and later in eternity.

There are 4 Reference Points that assure us we will Arrive At Our Destination.  These Reference Points is what will make us peculiar in this culture—and will transform us into God’s very own possession.  I want to give you these 4 Reference Points in the form of questions.  Question #1:

1.  Are You Hungry For The Word Of God?

Not what others say or write—but hungry for just God’s Word.  There are many in our culture, especially the church culture, who only want to hear what others say about God’s Word.  They want an interpretation—a spin—an angle that meets their own expectations and beliefs.

There are so many who want to speak FOR the Bible in ways that will support their Values, Ideas And Beliefs.  We don’t need more people speaking for the Bible.  We need the allow God’s Word to Speak TO us. 

We don’t need more people speaking for the Bible.  We need to allow God’s Word to Speak TO us.

There are so many who want to speak FOR the Bible in ways that will support their Values, Ideas And Beliefs.  We don’t need more people speaking for the Bible.  We need the allow God’s Word to Speak TO us.  If we are going to arrive at right destination now and in eternity, we need a reference point— The first reference point is to align our life with God and His Purpose for our life through The Word Of God!  Now, Question #2:

2.  Are You Living With Deep Joy?

Have you noticed that Values, Ideas And Beliefs of our are not producing deep joy?  Or is it just me?  People of our culture are seeking and pursuing happiness at the expense of deep joy.  Life is meant to be filled with deep joy.  Our culture has anything but deep joy.  It’s chaotic, angry and dangerous. 

We will never give the world Deep Joy living life by the Values, Ideas And Beliefs of this Culture.  Our Deep Joy comes from surrendering all of our life to Jesus—freely submitting to God’s Rule in our daily life.  Those who resent giving God Rule of their heart do not, can not, find the Deep Joy that comes from living Care-Free in God’s hands.  No heartache, no disappointment, no pain is ever greater than the freedom we find in the life surrendered to God.

Our Deep Joy comes from surrendering all of our life to Jesus—freely submitting to God’s Rule in our daily life.

Our culture needs to see us living in joy regardless of the circumstances.  Jesus describes it this way:  “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11)  What were the things Jesus told them?  Look at Verse 5—“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”  Joy Is A Reference Point Because It’s Based On Our Relationship With Jesus, Not Our Circumstances.  And now, Question #3:

3.  Are You Experiencing High Hopes?

The social, cultural and political turmoil in our culture is crushing countless hearts.  The Values, Ideas And Beliefs of this Culture isn’t concerned with hope—it’s focused on hate.  It’s focused on what’s wrong, what’s missing, and who’s at fault.  None of this is conducive for hope—only despair.

One day Jesus was looking around at His culture.  He saw hurt, lonely, confused people—like sheep without a shepherd.  Do you know what Jesus said about the culture that is so much like ours?  It’s in Matthew 9:38 (TM)—“What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”  Our Hope should be High Because We Live For And Serve The God Who Sees Opportunities For Greatness In Every Situation And In Every Life.  Our world will never find Hope if we see our world as Hopeless. 

Our world will never find Hope if we see our world as Hopeless.

Hope That God Is Greater Than Every Human Despair Must Be Our Reference Point.  And the final Question #4:

4.  Are You Expecting The Holy Spirit To Bring Awakening And Renewal In Your Life And To Our Culture?

The Values, Ideas And Beliefs of this Culture expect us who follow Jesus to change.  At the Wednesday Bible Study we were looking at the time Peter was in prison.  He was waiting for his trial and then his execution.  The church was praying earnestly for Peter—but their faith was not overwhelming because they didn’t believe Rhoda when she said Peter was at the door. 

You and I need to live in each moment expecting the Holy Spirit to bring Awakening and Renewal first to us—and then to our culture through us.  If you don’t expect to see Awakening and Renewal now, then why are you even here this morning?

It’s time for us to act in faith to a reality that no one can see—except those who have the heart of God!  Expect The Holy Spirit To Bring Awakening And Renewal In Your Life And To Our Culture.  And this is our Fourth Reference Point.

Expect The Holy Spirit To Bring Awakening And Renewal In Your Life And To Our Culture

Being peculiar means having the right answers to these questions. These are the 4 Reference Points that will guarantee that we will Arrive At Our Destination.  Our Destination for now is Verse 9—“To Be Royal Priests, A Holy Nation, God’s Very Own Possession.”

And our Final Destination will be “Well Done, My Good And Faithful Servant.  You Have Been Faithful In Handling This Small Amount, So Now I Will Give You Many More Responsibilities.  Let’s Celebrate Together!” (Matthew25:21 NLT)  But you can never Arrive There until you Arrive Here.

Your Next Step

Know Your Reference Points:

  1. The Word Of God
  2. Deep Joy
  3. High Hope
  4. Expect The Holy Spirit To Show Up And Show Out!

Recalculating: For Such A Time As This!

Today I want us to look at another Old Testament story to see what happens when we Recalculate Our Heart To Move In The Direction Of God’s Heart.  If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It:

God Is Looking For People Who Will Live Each Moment As If They Were Born Such A Time As This—Because You Are.

Today it’s the story of Esther.  It’s around 470 BC in Persia.  King Xerxes is throwing a wild party for the leading men of his nation.  On a drunken whim, the king orders his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself before all his guests.  She refuses, creating panic among the men:  What if their wives heard about it and followed her example?  Terrified at the prospect of such a thing, they convince the king to get rid of Queen Vashti.  But the king gets lonely.  Seeing his misery, the king’s advisors devise a plan. They will host a beauty pageant, gathering the most dazzling women from the kingdom, so the king can have “the pick of the litter”.  Enter Esther!

Esther’s cousin Mordecai encourages her to enter the Beauty Pageant.  But he wants her to hide something important—that she is a Jew—numbered among the people of God.  If the promoters of this beauty pageant find out she’s a Jew, they won’t ever consider her.  And he was right in that analysis.  If she wants to win the king’s favor, it will come at the price of hiding who she really is.  She’ll have to act just like everyone else.  And we know she wins.

Something happens, though, to throw all of this into jeopardy. It happens because of Mordecai’s resolve to be God’s Person.  There is a man in the kingdom named Haman, who is second in command to King Xerxes.  That’s a lot of power, but it’s never enough for men like Haman.  

He not only wants power; he wants others to flatter him, and inflate his already oversized ego.  That’s Haman—powerful, insecure, and a threat.  Whenever he passes by, everyone must bow down to him in an elaborate tribute.  But there’s Mordecai—so insistent that Esther conceals her true identity—decides this business with Haman has gone on long enough.  It was time to stand up and be counted.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.

Haman is furious with his actions and he hatches a plot.  He goes to King Xerxes and informs him of a people—God’s people—who are causing problems.  He convinces the king that it’s in the king’s best interests to completely annihilate them by genocide.  He even offers to finance the project!  Without blinking an eye, the king gives a nod of approval.  Posters are soon plastered all over the kingdom, saying:  Kill all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on March 7 next year.  When Mordecai hears the news, he does what any good Jew would do—he repents.  

He puts on sackcloth and covers himself with ashes—the clothing and gestures of repentance, and goes through the city, weeping and crying.  Why offer repentance?  Hasn’t the wrong been done by Haman?  Mordecai repents because he knows he has wronged God by trying to hide.  To borrow the words of James 4:4, Mordecai realizes that “If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

When Esther hears about her cousin’s behavior, she is concerned. She doesn’t care what’s going on; she just wants him to stop it.  She sends him a message to stop it.  But Mordecai refuses to turn away from his repentance.  So she sends another message.  Let’s pick up the story in Esther 4:13-17

13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther:  “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die.  Who Knows If Perhaps You Were Made Queen For Just Such A Time As This?”  15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  My maids and I will do the same.  And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king.  If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther 4:13-17 (NLT) (emphasis mine)

At the risk of racing through this amazing story, let me sum it up quickly.  She gets her opportunity and invites both Haman and the king to 2 special banquets.  Haman is delighted—proud and puffed up to know he is the only person chosen to attend the gathering alongside the king.  His spirits are quickly cooled because he saw Mordecai again and again he refused to bow down before Haman.  When he came home, he was complaining to his wife and family, “I’m the only one invited to the banquet the Queen has prepared for the King, and this, this heathen Mordecai dishonors me.”  So, his wife suggests he erect a tall pointed pole and impale Mordecai on it.  Well, Haman is happy again.  Haman thinks life is good again.

But the King couldn’t sleep the night before the banquet, so he had some servants read to him from the archives of his life as King.  I don’t know if he was wanting his ego stroked or if he thought the reading would be so boring he would fall asleep.  But then he hears about how a Jew named Mordecai had saved his life by revealing an assassination plot. 

Then he found out he had never properly recognized Mordecai for this, so he decides to honor him.  What happens next is pure irony—God is the Master of Irony!  The King sees Haman who is about to ask permission to kill Mordecai, and asks Haman how should someone really special be honored.  Haman, thinking it’s himself the King wants to honor says, “Give him one of your royal robes, give him one of your horses to ride and have a parade to tell everyone how wonderful this man is (wink-wink).  The king says, “Great idea!  Go get Mordecai ready for the parade, and you lead the parade telling everyone what a great man Mordecai is.” 

This humiliates Haman, but that evening it gets worse.  Esther then pleads for her people’s lives and reveals Haman’s evil plot and this angers the king.  Xerxes storms out, Haman falls on Esther’s couch to ask for mercy just when the King comes back in.  He gets the wrong idea, and has Haman impaled on the same pole he had built for Mordecai. 

Since the King cannot undo his decree to have the Jews killed, he gives another decree—they can defend themselves and their families.  Mordecai is then promoted to Haman’s position.  Let’s see if we can learn why The 21st Century Church needs a Change of Direction and Change of Heart, For Such A Time As This:

1.  We Are Living In A Time Of Moral Confusion.

If I or any preacher were to say:  “We are living in a time of immorality!”, there would be a loud echo of “AMEN!”  And we could cite instance after instance of why this would be true.  No doubt about it, immorality is in overabundance.  But I’m not so convinced the real issue of our culture is the immorality—as much as it is the Moral Confusion which exists.  The Crisis of our culture is the way it defines morality. 

The word definition of morality is simple:  “It Is The Principles That Mark The Distinction Between Right And Wrong Or Good And Bad Behavior.”  Our culture defines morality in contextual ways, rather than by Truth.  Here’s what I am trying to say.  Our culture defines right and wrong based on context, on the settingIf it’s OK in one setting, then it’s not immoral.

And it’s frustrating for us who identify as followers of Jesus.  Our culture needs to see a Morality, of what is good or bad, right or wrong, in us.  I’m not talking about is it right or wrong to have a drink or divorce or the lottery or cut grass on Sunday—I’m talking about us living a full and joyful life by the standard God has given us. 

You and I are born for such a time as this—To Show How Meaningful Life Is When We Live It By God’s Standard.  This Chaos Is Alienating People—And We Can Be The Ones God Uses To End This Chaos.

2.  We Are Living In A Season Of Instability!

Without a solid foundation to define morality—the end result is that instability of character within people’s lives.  The Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary defines Character this way: 

“The Way Someone Thinks, Feels, And Behaves; A Set Of Qualities That Are Shared By Many People In A Group; A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.

Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary

Focus on that last part:  A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.  The instability of our culture is the direct result of the lack of being different from other places and things.  Most people don’t follow Jesus say that it’s because they don’t like the church.

And when they ask what the church is, they identify us by things we are against.  Character of heart and life isn’t measured by just what we are against—it is measured more by what we are for

  • We are FOR unconditional love. 
  • We are FOR people being treated with respect and dignity.
  • We are FOR values that build people up. 
  • We are FOR kindness. 
  • We are FOR compassion—love in action. 
  • We are FOR Grace and Mercy expressed as Forgiveness And A Commitment To A Life Of Holiness! 
  • We are FOR eliminating human distinctions. 
  • HOPE For A Life That Is Meaningful, Fulfilling And Abundant! 

This is why you are born for such a time as this.  To bring all this and so much more, through the Kingdom of God—as seen in you.  And this leads me to my last point:

3.  We Are Living In A Time Of Despair.

The Lack Of A God-Centered Morality, The Absence Of Christ-Like Character Fuels The Despair That Is Consuming Our Culture In The U.S. 

Watch the news, look at Washington D.C., look at what’s happening in the streets.  It’s not the fault of the Democrats, nor the Republicans.  It’s the despair that’s fueling all of it.  No one sees or senses any hope for anything better.  So they argue and fight and point the finger of blame.  They become fearful and angry at each other. 

All because of the absence of one thing:  Hope!  Democrats can’t create hope.  Republicans can’t create hope.  Socialists can’t create hope.  Government can’t create hope.  And the hate, anger and frustrations of the people can’t create hope.  These only intensify the despair.  Hope is missing.  Why?

It’s the failure of so many in churches who have either forgotten, or never understood, That WE Have Been Born, WE Have Been REBORN For Such A Time As This. Despair is ripping apart the fabric of our nation and world. 

We Need A Recalculating Moment To See That We Are Born And Reborn For Such A Time As This.  To Bring Moral Clarity, Lasting Character And Living Hope. 

A Day Comes When We’ve Got To Stand, Be Counted, And Fight To Proclaim What We’ve Been Entrusted With.  Today Is That Day. 

We should know we will never win a pagan culture by mimicking it and all it values.   The strongest influence we can bring in these chaotic and desperate times is to simply be peculiar—to be, with neither pride nor apology, followers of Jesus. 

Our call, God’s vision for this place, will reveal the character of Jesus—a character saturated with love, mercy, grace and compassion—a character that just doesn’t point out what’s wrong with others, but sees their hurts and their needs—a character that does more than see their needs, but does something to meet those needs.

Your Next Steps is to accept these 3 truths and live them out:

1.  The People Of God Do Not Succeed In A Pagan World By Hiding Their True Identity.

2. You Can Win Admiration By Conforming To The Standards Of The Age, But It Will Take You Further Away From Having A Heart For God.

3.  We Have An Enemy Who Is Out To Destroy Us, And No Amount Of Hiding Will Save Us.

Did you catch Mordecai’s last warning to Esther?

“Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive.  If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, Help And Deliverance Will Arrive For The Jews From Someplace Else; but you and your family will be wiped out.”

God is at work bringing help and deliverance to this vast spiritual wasteland.  The issue for you and for all of us, will it be through some other people, or will we rise For Such A Time As This?

I Want A Deluxe But Hold The Onions

Good morning and welcome to some more insights from the Book formerly known as The Acts Of The Apostles but now known as Acts Of The Holy Spirit I Surrendered People. I’m still in chapter 2 and what caught my attention is Verse 36.

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”

I’ve read this so many times and have believed its truth with all my heart. But this time when I got to the end of verse 36, the Spirit said, “Stop!” So I did, carefully reading each word slowly so as to take in every breath. Then it hit me. Immediately I started thinking about my culture, my Tribe, and the issue facing this Tribe. It was those last 6 words: “to be both Lord and Messiah”.

I see a lot of people in our culture who love the idea of a Messiah–someone who will come to help us out of our messes we’ve made. After all, who doesn’t want to get out of the pain, despair and everything else that goes along with the messes we make of life. It’s a new way of saying what I heard a long time ago: “Some people just want Jesus to save them from hell, and nothing else.” The crowd of Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters definitely fit in here. Can you blame them? I mean, who wants to spend an eternity in fire and brimstone.

And I seen this among the Progressives (formerly known as liberals) in my church Tribe. They advocate a new definition of sexuality and insist (may I add without scientific evidence and solid exegesis) that God created some to be gay. They add that the birth parents even gave them the wrong physical gender. So, to get rid of the mess, they want The Messiah, The Savior, but not the Lord.

To want only the Messiah but not the Lord??? That’s like ordering a deluxe bacon cheeseburger but saying, “I want the Deluxe but hold the onions.” What makes it the Deluxe is all that other stuff they add to that burger and bun. You’re denying yourself the full experience of “The Deluxe”.

But here, when the Body of Christ was born, Peter insists (under the inspiration of the Wind and Fire of the Holy Spirit, I might add) that it is not enough to declare Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus must also be Lord! In this good old U.S. of A. that just doesn’t sit well. We are a democracy, not a nation of lemmings. Actually, we are not a democracy–we are a representative republic. I’ll let you do your own research on this statement.

Even as I’m writing, I see something else. It’s the order of those words, “Lord” and “Messiah”. Here’s the truth that Colonel Jessup (A Few Good Me) would say to so many today: “You can’t handle the truth!” The truth that many today refuse to handle is that before Jesus can become your Messiah, your Savior, He must first be your Lord.

It’s difficult to admit that there are some things–correct that–many things we cannot handle on our own. And unless we acknowledge and surrender to Jesus as our Lord, we will never find Jesus as our Messiah. We can find warm fuzzy feelings of love and plenty of ways to justify our lives, and if we are told that enough times, say it enough times, we will believe the lie–and miss out on the Savior.

But in order to enter into that realm of God’s Grace, we must first acquiesce to the fact we NEED The Lord. Let unto our own devices and logic, it is a train wreck about to happen. The only way He can be our Lord, is that we surrender to His Authority and Rule. Not just once. Not just every day. But every moment of every day choose again to make Jesus you Lord. And unlike absolute rulers today and throughout history, Jesus is a Good Lord. He’s trustworthy to make the best decisions for your life. After all, in order to show that we can trust Him to be our Lord, He allowed Himself to be crucified on That Cross–for me…..and for you…..

Don’t forget, my friends….Love Jesus with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

The Big Lie!

old new clothes

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”.  It was my 43rd consecutive Conference.  For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done.  Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message.  She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question:  What are you wearing?

Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message.  I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love.  Or, as The Message puts it:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. 

But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth.  And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie!  As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me.  She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter.  Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label.  But….

But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them.  He starts off in Verses 1-2

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext.  Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2.  And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology.  We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”.  Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin.  Just wear love!

Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes?  The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t!  In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you:  Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy.  And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.

I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me.  I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes.  Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity.  There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.

Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.”  I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity.  A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.

And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes.  As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.

I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin.  And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination.  Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:

17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  Rejecting Jesus?”  I think my response shocked her.  I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin.  I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).  No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke.  I just noticed something–3:16.  One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16).  This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.

I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes.  They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn.  We have to put off the old in order to wear the new.  So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old.  Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie.  And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.

Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us.  Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress.  That’s not how this works!

Give Up Mediocrity!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

Revelation 3:14-22 

14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church.  God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says:

15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.  You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot!  You’re stale.  You’re stagnant.  You make me want to vomit.  You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

18 Here’s what I want you to do:  Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Then you’ll be rich.  Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half-naked long enough.  And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.  Up on your feet, then! About face!  Run after God!

20-21 Look at me.  I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!

22 Are your ears awake?  Listen.  Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”

As we continue looking at what we need to give up for Lent and beyond, today’s challenge is Give Up Mediocrity!  Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.

What’s the definition of mediocrity?  I’m so glad you asked.  It’s The Quality Or State Of Being Only Ordinary Or Moderate Quality; Neither Good Nor Bad; Barely Adequate; The Consequence Of Being Average And Not Outstanding.

Maybe the synonyms for this word will bring the meaning into focus:  undistinguished, commonplace, everyday; run-of-the-mill.  It comes from the Latin that means “half-way up the mountain”.  It was used to describe a mountain climber who made it half way up a mountain, but then came back down.  Mediocrity Is Just Being Average, Or As Jesus Put It In His Message To Laodicea, “Lukewarm”.

We can decide that we are going to move beyond mediocrity and do something new.  But pastor and writer Carey Nieuwhof said this in his series “Doing Time”:  “The reality is this:  That you still bring ‘you’ into anything new that you do.”

Several years ago, the Gallop poll asked this question:  How Engaged Are You At Work?  Engaged means they feel a sense of connection with their work and they are committed to doing the best they can.  71% responded they were Disengaged.  Of the other 21%, 12% were on Facebook and 17% were playing Candy Crush.   No, I made that part up.  The truth is only 21% were engaged in their work; meaning they are connected to their work and have the desire to do the best job possible.   Answer this question:  How Engaged Are You?  At work?  With Community?  With Family?  In God’s Kingdom?

I wonder if we have theologized our way into mediocrity.  I agree that the Spirit does the work and often works in spite of ourselves.  But, have we relied so much on that theology that we don’t even try to do our own work and mission with a sense of being engaged because we have a theology that says, “Hey, God works even if we suck”?

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is an object will remain motionless or uniform in motion unless acted upon by an external force.  People are a lot like that—motionless or going through the motions until acted upon by some external force.  So, if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Mediocrity Is Destroyed When Your Heart Is Fully Engaged With Life.  There are not enough cosmetics to cover over this curse of mediocrity.  No plastic surgeon is skillful enough to remove the scars created by the life of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is what provides the fuel for selfishness and that selfishness promotes that vile and wicked spirit of consumerism!  Consumerism is a leach.  Leeches attach themselves to other lives and sucks the life right out of them.  There are 3 key symptoms of Mediocrity:

One Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Procrastination

Life can lose its sense of urgency.  When you do, your priorities change from putting first things first, to putting yourself first.  It becomes easier and easier to push God’s agenda aside.  Procrastination is the failure to remain attentive to what God is doing and what God is wanting to be done.   It is setting aside God’s desire for glory for our personal convenience. This is one reason why Mediocrity is a curse and fails to glorify God.

Another Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Lethargy

When I talk of lethargy, I mean a serious condition in which you literally don’t get anywhere in life.  The lethargic person is that person who Greg Groeschel calls a “Christian atheist”—claiming to be Christian but living as if God doesn’t exist.  I found this interesting about that word lethargy.  It comes from the Greek word meaning “forgetfulness”.  It’s forgetting what is most important in life.  Lethargy is the failure to take it upon yourself to take action in your life and make the best of it.  So you become just average.  Mediocrity is a curse because it doesn’t change what’s wrong in your heart, and you fail to glorify God.

The Third Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Timidity

Timidity is the failure to trust God with all aspects of your life.  Timidity finds all kinds of excuses, great sounding excuses why you cannot excel in life.  Timidity promotes that false humility which excludes you from what God wants to do with your life for your community.  Accepting average for and from yourself closes the door to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.  Because Mediocrity promotes that false humility, it fails to glorify God.

Think of being mediocre and being lukewarm as one in the same—because they are.  This was the problem at Laodicea.  Doing just enough to feel good about themselves while sinking down like they were in quicksand; and that will literally crush our lives.  An ordinary life never experiences the extraordinary Grace of God.  So how can we break free of being just average?  Well, may I suggest you begin doing what Jesus told the church at Laodicea to do?  3 critical decisions you need to make for God to break you free from Mediocrity:

Step 1:  Commit Your Life To Holiness

Vs. 18a—Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Holiness is found by living each day within The Virtues Of God.  And Paul gives us a practical but challenging way to live in these Virtues in Philippians 4:8—Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  When you fill your mind with these things, your words and actions become Holy and YOU become Holy.  We live by the things we think about. Step 2:

Step 2:  Decide To Live Righteously

Vs. 18b—Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  God wants to make us righteous and He does by giving us the righteousness of Christ.  Then God wants us to live righteously—to live in the right way.  Paul describes this in Colossians 3:12-13—So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  Treat people the way Jesus treats them.  Help people the way Jesus helps them.  Let every decision be what is right—not what is easy or convenient. Step 3:

Step 3:  Become Engaged With God’s Mission

Vs. 18c—And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.   God’s Mission is clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20—God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.  God has given us the task of telling everyone what He is doing.  We’re Christ’s representatives.  God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.  We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  Average and ordinary simply does not cut the mustard when it comes to the Mission of God.  If you are not bringing people to Jesus, you’re failing in the Mission.  It takes extraordinary people—and you will become extraordinary when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and allow The Spirit to equip and empower you for God’s Mission.

Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.  And you make God nauseated.  Don’t be lukewarm!  Be cold or hot, but don’t make God nauseated.

But What About…???

If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words.  As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”.  I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.

To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me.  I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue.  I believe it is.

In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me:  “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?”  Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response.  I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian?  Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian?  Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian?  My answer is yes.  But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.”  And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community.  Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God.  Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest.  What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”.  And now the reason I am writing this blog.

That body known as the “Commission On A Way Forward” shared their report to our bishops.   (You can read about this report here.)  While I have been hopeful about the work of the Commission, I am not surprised by their report, nor am I surprised by the response of some of our bishops; and this deeply saddens me.

The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line:  “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.”  But what about The Bible?  Does it no longer hold any value?  Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth?  More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?

Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:

  • Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
  • Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “

And what about The Bible?  Everything in each “option” is about “their view”.  And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve.  Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes.  I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’  so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design.  But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.

So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision.  My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design.  After all, HE created me.  Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth.  I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility.  Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”.  As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…

Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven!

2 Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven

(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)

Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:  Disclaimer

OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus.  Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth.  He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth.  He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally.  But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration.  And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole.  2 Steps:

  1. Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself.  If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole

If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole.  But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority.  Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings.  It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this:  Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven.  This is what Jesus is really saying here.  Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven.  These are good, moral and honest people.  This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars.  These are the people who talk a good game.  Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas.  So, is Jesus serious here?  OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:

  1. Is It Possible?
    1. One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was.  And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
    2. The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
    3. Think about this:  Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord?    It happens every day.
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
    1. Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
    2. And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.

Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow.  If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.

But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something?  I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others.  It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars.  For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage.  We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.

Then why isn’t this enough?  I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong.  We helped our neighbor a few times.  Shouldn’t this be enough?  To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough.  If we do more good things than bad things—hey!  We should be able to get in.  Makes human sense, doesn’t it.  After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good.   It works in accounting, but not at judgment.  Why doesn’t it work at judgment?

Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.

The Kingdom is God’s realm.  And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness.  Now how righteous are we to be?  Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  How righteous were they?  Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own.  They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion.  They were obsessed with religious function.  As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.

They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting.  They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law.  It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.

God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish.  Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus.  So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?

1) The Problem Of Sin

Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside.  John Wesley called it “Original Sin”.  We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature.  It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.

The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark.  We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness.  We miss the mark when it comes to judging others.  We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy.  We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done.  Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.

Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God.  In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  The Law of God is one single Law.  Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws.  When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience.  All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.

2) The Issue Of Holiness

1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness.  We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin!  When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.

We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image.  God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God.  Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain.  Being good is different from being Holy.  Being good is acting nice to others for the most part.  Being good is acting joyful for the most part.  Being good is acting grateful for the most part.  Being good is going to church on most Sundays.  Being good is reading your Bible for the most part.  Being good is helping someone from time to time.  Being good is paying the bills on time.  Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are.  Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.

The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.

Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.

No exceptions and no exclusions.  Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner.  Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone.  And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.

3) The Need For Righteousness

Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God.  But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God.  And we never will by our best efforts.  So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner.  In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God.  Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.

Righteousness is received in two acts.  The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.

  Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.

Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross.  It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness.  By Grace—Through Faith

But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning.  Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness.  Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right.  It’s the reason for:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God.  It happens when we get involved with what God is doing.  It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.

  1. The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
  2. The Great Love For God—with all your life
  3. The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
  4. The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus

Getting into heaven isn’t about being good.  It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good.  So, how do you get into heaven?  It’s by obeying.  Listen again to verse 21:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?

  1. Confess And Repent:  Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins.  Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner.  Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
  2. Trust And Believe:  Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
  3. Surrender And Follow:  Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
  4. Learn And Do:  Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching.  Then do the things you have learned.  In other words, obey Jesus.

Next Step

Assumptions

Maker:S,Date:2017-10-3,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E:Y

It is easy, so very easy, TOO easy, to read our assumptions into the Truths in the Bible.  I know, because I have been guilty of doing it.  The sign you see is one in front of a local church.  I know some of the people, and they love Jesus.  But something about this sign doesn’t seem right to me.  Now before you accuse me of “judging” them, or being a fundamental literalist, know that I am reading a really great book called 12 Steps For The Recovering Pharisee (like me).”  Here is what The Spirit is teaching me:  “Don’t Read Your Assumptions Into My Texts!”

The Shepherds did NOT follow the Star.  They followed the verbal directions of the Choir Director of Heaven’s Choir.  Here is the story found in Luke 2:8-16 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

Was that Star present?  Absolutely!  The “Wise Men” saw it and followed it.  Were they the only ones who could see that Star?  No, anyone who looked up at night could have seen that Star, but only those “Wise Men” knew what to do with it.  The Shepherds, on the other hand, received verbal directions on where to find the newborn Messiah:  In the stable at Bethlehem.  Being Shepherds, they would have known where that Stable was at; and if there were multiple stables in and around Bethlehem, they would have known their locations, too.  That’s what Shepherds do!

But this sign reveals something that, well, I want to talk about.  Again, I’m not criticizing or judging; just an observation.  Because the Wise Men followed the Star (that is in the Bible; Matthew 2:1-12) does not mean that the Shepherds (or anyone else, for that matter) followed the Star.  This person simply took their knowledge about that Star and applied it to the Shepherds.  There was a star and there were Shepherds!  Voila and Ta-Da!  The Shepherds MUST HAVE followed that Star.

It’s not just with the Incarnation Story that people take one part of the Bible and add it to another part.  The danger of “assuming” things about a passage creates damage; to people and to churches.  Our natural tendency (the one influenced by the Father of all lies) is to find ways to prove our point.  The Enemy is skillful and unfortunately, very successful, at helping us take the “text” out of its “context” simply to prove our point.

God has been taking me on an incredible journey of simplicity that is profoundly impacting both my faith and my life.  The Spirit has given me a, call it “Formula” or “Bible Reading Plan” that looks like this:

  1. First, I begin listening to some Worship music.  I use my earbuds so as not to disturb anyone, and to not be distracted in my personal worship time.  I also pour my cup of coffee and sit in front of the fireplace.  It helps me to stay focused on worshiping God.  Being ADHD, it’s easy for me to be distracted.  Finding this place helps me remind myself:  “Hey!  Dummy!  This moment is about God being honored for who HE IS, not what I need or need to be doing!”
  2. I read the Sacred Scriptures without any agenda or bias.  I ask the Holy Spirit to speak into my mind and heart.  I listen to the words I’m reading, pushing aside anything anyone has ever told me about the passage or what I think I know about the passage.  I approach it as if it is the very first time I’ve read it.  (By the way, I’m in my 3 consecutive reading of Ephesians, each time I start over, I treat it like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.  I found it takes me 6 to 7 days to read this letter.)
  3. I focus on the context of the passage.  When did God say or inspire those words?  What was happening in that culture, in that moment?  Sometimes there are other questions, but the last one I ask is important:  What does this say about God’s passion and desire to restore this fallen creation?  In other words, “How is God moving to make me (and others) into what HE originally intended BEFORE Adam and Eve sinned?”
  4. I ask this question:  “What is God saying to me?”  I write my answers down in a journal.
  5. Then I ask the second question:  “What does this say about me?”  This can get a little dicey and requires a lot more focus from me.  Sometimes it convicts me.  Other times it affirms me.  And there have been a few moments when I discover God’s view of me is different than my view of me–sometimes even better than I see myself.
  6. And now, I am moving into the third question.  This question is the one that  will determine if I will allow this Word to transform into who God says I am.  “What am I going to do about it?”

I am finding this approach helps to clear my head of any assumptions I may be bringing into the Story of God’s work of Restoration.  You see, when we ASSUME anything, it makes something out of “U and ME”.  Figure it out.  And if you ASSUME alone, it just makes you “it”.  What I’m saying is, “Folks!  Stop assuming YOU are the final authority on the Bible.  Stop assuming YOU are right.  Don’t read the Bible to prove your point.  Read the Bible to show where you are missing that mark of being all you are created to become, not so that you can point out where you think people are wrong.  Stop taking passages out of context!  Please!”  I remember something from my homiletics class.  Dr. Thompson said it many times:  “A text taken out of its context is only a pretext, and never the Truth.”

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Amen and Amen!

Oh, here’s a post script, and it comes from the stories around the birth of Jesus:  God speaks to different people in different ways–but if we follow His directions, be it by a star or by the Choir Director of Heaven’s Angel Choir, we get to the same place.  But you have to follow HIS directions.

 

A New Definition Of Hate

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OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I don’t keep up with all the current events.  The past 7 days, though, I have a good, a very good excuse.  But then, don’t we all?  Well, I feel like mine has some merit.  Last Wednesday I had a heart ablation from which I am recovering very well.  Then there’s this thing called HARVEY.  As our tribe’s (some call them denominations) Disaster Response & Recovery Coordinator there is much work I have to do in this role as a Bond Servant of Jesus.

This morning I checked my Twitter feed and was seeing all this stuff about The Nashville Statement.  It was a diatribe of hate, so I decided to read it for myself rather than read what others said about.  I know, how dumb can I be!  Wanting to read it for myself rather than trust all those progressive voices telling me what it means.  I saw some tweets comparing the writers and signers as supporters of the American Nazi movement.  Well, I read it and was left scratching my head wondering, “Where is the hate?  Did Google lead me to the wrong site?”

So I went back to those Tweets.  Aren’t they always reliable and truthful?  I found this link to an article written by John Pavlovitz titled The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation).  Well I thought, “OK!  I love plain language translations.  Here I can get to the heart of the real NASHVILLE STATEMENT, not the wrong one Google gave me.”  Well, there I go thinking again.  And thus why I am writing this morning.

His alleged “plain language translation” was simply a rehash of all the hate speech I had seen on Twitter.  After careful review and reflection of John’s comments and other similar reviews, I have reached an assessment, call it conclusion, not only about many progressives, but our culture in general.  And here it is:  “If you do not agree with me and my views then you automatically hate me and others like me.”

Really, John, et.al.?  I realize that in the arena of discussion about human sexuality that there is some hate speech going on, especially in the name of the Body of Christ.  And to those who express hate speech and identify yourself as (an alleged) Christian, I say to you, “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU!  REPENT IMMEDIATELY AND TURN TO GOD!”

I realize a lot of morons, excuse me, “well-meaning people” have taken biblical texts out of context to justify their position and made the Bible say things it doesn’t say.  But if one will take the time to see the whole picture of the Bible, there are only 2 stories.  The first story is God’s creation and His Intended Design.  It was perfect in every way.  And in the realm of sexuality it is very clear:  God created them biologically male and female, both equally revealing His image.  And marriage was defined as 1 husband (a man) and 1 wife (a woman).  Together they were to live in perfect relationship with God and together explore God’s creation.  Story #1!

The second story begins with the Fall, which introduces into God’s Creation a totally different purpose.  The rest of the Bible is the story of God attempting to restore fallen humanity back in His Original Intent and Design and away from this “Fallen” purpose.  Now anyone like me, who believes that God is busy setting back right all that we humans have messed up, is simply filled with hate, well John, you are all wrong about that!

Our culture has gone into a moral and spiritual wasteland when anyone with a different view or belief, is labeled HATEFUL!  Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it!  But then I remember those words of Jesus:  (Matthew 5:44 NLT) “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”  I hear a lot of people like John, who label themselves as progressives, pray AGAINST their perceived enemy and all the while calling for love above all.  Is it just me that sees the hypocracy of progressives?  They rant, rail and pray against their “enemy” while insisting that love should rule the day.

Yes, we are called to love but not at the sacrifice of the Truth.  I’ve heard the argument, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  Nothing, so we shouldn’t.”  Well, He didn’t say anything against using meth or cheating on your tax return, or keeping that extra change that the cashier gave you, or a lot of other every day “stuff”.  But Peter made the connection in 1 Peter 1:15-16–“15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  And Holy is to be who and what God designed us to be.  If that is hate, then maybe you need a new definition of hate.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!